Lords amendment: No. 40, in page 27, line 26, at end insert—
I beg to move, as an amendment to the Lords amendment, at end add
'Provided that pending a direction or authorisation under this subsection the business of the licence holder may be carried on by some other person—
This is a simple point that we are pressing in regard to the new clause concerning the individual who owns the operator's licence or road service licence and who may be in a situation of bankruptcy or has had such a licence terminated by death, bankruptcy or being a patient determined under the Mental Health Act. This differs from the previous argument about whether the manager with professional competence is involved. In that case, we accept that the business should not be subjected to the problems if one could not get an immediate replacement.
We are now talking about licences in the name of the individual where a similar problem arises. The commissioners have power to allow an extension from 12 to 18 months if they so wish under these circumstances. It is felt by some in the industry that certain circumstances should be allowed in regard to death and mental health. It may take a period of time on application to the commissioners. The commissioners may have to be satisfied that the individual to whom they are passing it over meets certain requirements, especially in regard to the holder of the licence or operator's licence. We considered, in this amendment, that if the person should die, a period of 14 days should be allowed for the business to continue while the commissioners make investigations or seven days in regard to a mental health case.
On the difference in time, one can understand that when a sudden death occurs and the business is left in a considerable quandary a period of time would be required for relatives to settle matters, far more than in the case of mental health.
Our amendment is self-explanatory and seeks to make matters a little easier in the situation in which the business is threatened by a sudden death or, as in the circumstances pointed out, where the licence becomes no longer valid.
I have to advise the House to reject the Opposition amendment and to agree with Lords amendment No. 40. We are dealing here with the death, bankruptcy or insanity of the holder of the operator's licence. Lords amendment No. 40 provides a simple procedure whereby the traffic commissioners may direct that for a reasonable period someone else can hold the licence so that the business does not have to fold immediately.
I understand the fears which lie behind the Opposition amendment. It is technically, I suppose, arguable that if someone suddenly drops dead at four o'clock in the afternoon, by five past four all his buses are operating illegally because there is no longer the holder of an operator's licence. But there are two answers to that. The first is the obvious and commonsense one that it is almost unthinkable that any traffic commissioner or anyone else would suddenly start issuing complaints or trying to impose penalties on people who suddenly find themselves operating illegally in that way, because the operator has dropped dead and they happen to be out on the road with a bus or carrying on the business for the next few days. I know that that is not always an adequate defence.
The second answer to what happens if one has some traffic commissioner who, in a fit of extraordinary loss of judgment, suddenly starts bringing complaints against people for operating a business a few days after the operator has died, is that when one looks at the particular offences set out in the Bill which might be committed, one finds that the defences which we have put in adequately cover that. There would obviously be a reasonable excuse. One would obviously show due diligence, and so on. If an application was in the course of being made to the traffic commissioners, there is no way in which any conviction could be sustained and any penalty imposed.
I shall not go into the reason why the amendment was proposed by the Opposi tion, although, as I say, I understand what they were aiming at. In many ways, it would leave uncertainties and it could give rise to difficulties, because it does not make it clear exactly who the "some other person" is who may carry on the business. In practical terms, the problems are covered by the Bill as amended by Lords amendment No. 40.